Agencies to form commodity councils

The Office of Management and Budget wants to see agency councils centered around the strategic acquisition of a particular commodity in the near future, said David Safavian, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the Office of Management and Budget.

"In the coming months, you all are going to see a memo coming out from OMB that says agencies should identify three commodities," Safavian said April 25 during the annual Government Performance Summit in Washington, D.C. "If we can drive a better deal by bringing our purchases together and timing them better, we’re going to ask [agencies] to do it."

A spate of recent federal procurement scandals should not undo acquisition reforms made during the past decade, he said. A debate exists between "going back to the days where you have multiple levels of audit to ensure that the acquisitions get the absolute best prices" vs. "encouraging more vendors to come into the system by streamlining, [so] the taxpayers ultimately benefit more" – a view Safavian champions.

He wants to improve the federal acquisition workforce's skills. Officials are evaluating current staffing and competencies compared to future needs, he said.

"I am not criticizing the acquisition community," Safavian said. "I am criticizing how we managed it in the past in terms of not giving these folks enough training."

The Federal Acquisition Institute and the Defense Acquisition University will increase their partnership on course content, he added. Officials want to make the acquisition workforce more mobile, with acquisition officers able to move among federal departments.

Expect changes in the implementation of competitive sourcing, he said. Federal workers have been winning 91 percent of competitions recently, Safavian said.

"Our biggest challenge right now is to make sure that the private sector maintains an interest in this process," he said. "With the 91 percent in-house win rate, it is sometimes difficult to get the outside to come to the table and compete."

Industry did not bid on half of the most recent set of competitive sourcing contracts, Safavian said. "You never know whether we have a benchmark level of service or a benchmark cost until you've competed it against the private sector," he said.

In information technology competitions, private-sector participation increased savings in the final contract award by 40 percent when compared against IT competitions with no industry bidders, he said.

As a result, OMB will start asking agencies for real-time reporting of competitions with no private-sector participation, Safavian said. "Part of it is to bring transparency," he said, adding that "sometimes it's not too late to take actions to coax the private sector."

Inspectors general will begin examining government-won contracts to make sure what was promised by the government bid is being delivered, Safavian said.

What jobs agencies classify as inherently nongovernmental and therefore subject to possible competitive sourcing also needs to be examined, he said. "My sense is that we have a whole lot of inconsistency from agency to agency," said Safavian, who cited firefighters as an example -- the Interior Department classifies them as nongovernmental, while the Forest Service treats them as commercial positions.

Bringing the benefits of competition to functions that are inherently governmental is also being considered, Safavian said. “How do we bring some of the performance characteristics of competition that we see on the commercial side over to the inherently governmental side?”

“We’re looking at agencies competing out their services along the lines of business initiatives,” he said. “That is probably more focused on performance and service quality than it is about dollars and cents. I don’t think we see bidding wars.”

The recompete of the contract for Federal Business Opportunities Web site is going well, Safavian said. "We're hoping to bring new functionalities to it, but the bottom line is we're not going to do anything that harms the perfect record we have," he said.

Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation is a different story. Automating that program, which deals with information from 26 agencies, will take time, Safavian said. "We bit off more than we could chew," he said. "We are struggling with how we are going to get this back on track where we have a system that is producing strong data."


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About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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